Psy’s Gangnam Style: Just Another Isolating Viral Act

It has been seven months since Korean performer Psy’s Gangnam Style video and horse dance went viral. What have we actually learnt from this whole craze?

Not much about Korean culture or the essence of multiculturalism. But more about how many of us unconsciously love having fun with those of similar background and how Psy is a one-hit wonder.

As discussed in Psy’s Gangnam Style: This Isn’t Multiculturalism, the media frames used to portray Psy in the media encourages the public to see him as just an entertaining entertainer as opposed to appreciating diversity within society or interacting with others of Korean culture – hence Psy can be described as a racial “isolating viral act”.

Everyday people have been spurred by Gangnam Style into banding together with their immediate friends and colleagues – those who are of similar background and speak the same familiar language(s) – with the sole purpose of mimicking the horse dance with a local twist.

Thousands of parodies, localised versions of Gangnam Style are up on YouTube. For instance, Malaysian radio DJs and entertainers have made a Gangnam Style parody titled “KL Style”. Singaporean youths have come up with one called “Singapore Gangnam Style”, jiggying to the song’s beat.

Many have chosen to mimic the unique entertainer for amusement’s sake and in the process are stimulated to unite with people of the same ethnicity without a thought for the importance and significance of Korean culture has in society today.

From the very beginning of the Psy phenomenon, there has been constant speculation that the horse-dance is a craze that will fade away in due time.

This is indeed a valid argument: many are now turning their attention and going ga-ga over the Harlem Shake, arguably made famous by a viral Harlem Shake video put together by a group of youths in Australia. This latest (video) craze features ordinary people erratically dancing along to the first 30 seconds of up-and-coming New York DJ Baauer’s song Harlem Shake. Like Gangnam Style, countless parodies of the Harlem Shake have made their way to YouTube.

The world is essentially captivated by the vigorously shaking bodies of those in the Gangnam Style and Harlem Shake videos.

As such, to a substantial degree it is fair to say that individuals are not attracted to Psy because he is a Korean entertainer with a song that has a serious message about Korea’s Gangnam district, but a Korean entertainer with an outrageous dance move.

News headlines such as “Harlem Shake: Move Over Psy’s Gangnam Style” and “Harlem Shake Meme: the New Gangnam Style” have accompanied media coverage about this new trend. Now that the Harlem Shake is the “in-thing”, the media is seemingly attempting to push Gangnam Style out of the picture. Psy and all things Korean have had their time in the spotlight, and this suggests that there is little room for prolonged features on Korean or ethnic minority in the media.

It is interesting to note how Psy himself has been increasingly emulating the traits of a typical, popular, cookie-cutter, superstar entertainer – a product of a capitalist-focused entertainment industry. Over the past few months, Psy has been shuttled around the world from New Delhi to Los Angeles, paid to perform Gangnam Style for adoring audiences. Psy was even specially invited to perform in Malaysia as part of Lunar New Year celebrations earlier this year.

Psy is essentially a money-making machine controlled by record companies that strive to make financial profits. Fostering harmonious relations among people of different races through music is generally not at the forefront of their agendas (although perhaps for the artist personally it is), but making a buck out of Gangnam Style is.

The fact that many people of various races enthusiastically, repeatedly watch and listen to Gangnam Style – a foreign language song to them – is arguably one positive that has arisen from the Psy phenomenon. Quite a number of us are willing to embrace cultural diversity within our communities – only if it floats our boat.

In the case of Psy, it is probably the fact that he is a non-threatening, funny performer and it is this that makes him likeable.

However, at the end of the day, it is hard to see how anything fruitful can be derived from mimicking Gangnam Style or the Harlem Shake, let alone watching parodies of the crazes online. This include learning about or even thinking about multiculturalism.

Multiculturalism is about respecting and understanding people of different races and learning to get along with them.

If we are to foster multiculturalism in our communities, we should start looking away from our computer screens and start interacting with people of different races around us.

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8 thoughts on “Psy’s Gangnam Style: Just Another Isolating Viral Act

  1. It would be hard for people to fully appreciate Psy’s song unless they actually understood the language. So the best people can do is like the music and the funny video clip.

    • That’s a very good point. People aren’t really expected to go rushing to decipher and translate the song’s lyrics word for word. There is nothing wrong with just sitting back and enjoying the music. But it would be nice and even productively self-educational if you choose to suss out the real meaning behind the clip :)

    • With an open mind, we can learn to see things from different perspectives, and that is always interesting. Thanks for your nice words and thanks for reading :)

  2. I was in China at the end of last year. Everything from talent shows to news interviews with random farmers featured a bit of Gangnam Style. I didn’t really pay much attention to it, as it was all a bit sickening, but I did get the feeling that while there was some attempt at translating the lyrics, it was nonetheless just a nice song and a funny dance.

    I wonder how much music contributes to spreading culture anyway. Did the love that many Asian countries feel for Michael Jackson’s music mean that they understood more of American culture? Indeed, do even us fellow English speakers get much of an appreciation for the culture of the US from the many songs from there that hit our airwaves? Perhaps it’s all about nice songs and funny dances after all.

    • Good use of the word ‘sickening’.

      There definitely has been translation of the lyrics and message of Gangnam Style in Western media in a bid to explain to the public what the song means. That’s great and I’m sure many non-Korean people have paid attention to this bit of information. And then very unfortunately forget about it and go back to paying more attention to the wacky dance and parodies of it.

      Great examples there of whether or not music does help us understand other cultures. Perhaps part of the problem is that quite a lot of the music today is made for, to put it very simply, for entertainment. Also, many of us choose to listen to music – be it an English or ethnic pop song – to relax or unwind after a hard day, and learning or connecting with another culture through music is the furthest thing from our minds.

  3. I appreciate your analysis, and agree with much of it. Where we ‘part ways’ is that I don’t see why Psy has to be a “one-hit” wonder. Though he is not exactly sexy in the popular sense, he is obviously talented, and one hell of a performer. And part of what makes this video so ‘special’ is that it is nothing at all like what many people (American’s, anyway) might expect to see from Korean performers — or to be more blunt, Asian performers…. As a Black woman, a member of the lgbt community, and part of a family that is Black and Asian, I and many of my family members love K-Pop. In fact, I have played K-Pop for my American friends, and they assumed that they were listening to “Black” performers — . I, personally, *love* to see the old “only Blacks can dance and ‘sAng’” fable take a hit, once more. Additionally, Psy makes quite a political statement; he’s taken some hits for previous political statements; and he *has* managed to get at least *some* of us talking. As for the whole “commercial” aspect, well, I wish I’d been around to “make the call” that there was money in this because I, like many people, could use some money. Certainly, there are worse ways to make money: Like Gangsta’ Rap… I can’t tell you how sick and tired I am of Black women being referred to, and represented as, “bitches and ho-s.” And though I’m not a Christian, I was an English major, so I’ve read the Christian Bible. People often misquote this verse: “…money is the root of all evil…,” when, in fact, it says that “the love of money” is the “root” of all evil… So, as we say in the “Black community,” “Say that,” Psy!

    Namaste,
    –Vivien

    • I definitely agree with you that Psy has indeed got us talking about not just K-pop, but Korean culture in general. Music is a beautiful thing and often deemed a universal language. It’s all about feeling the beat and you don’t have to understand the lyrics to enjoy the song but the gist of it…and I suppose this is what people bond over when they listen to songs like Gangnam Style. It has a catchy beat and it is quite clear that it’s poking fun at lavish lifestyles, lavish lifestyles which many of us are guilty of.

      It’s a plus that Psy is outspoken as well and not afraid to make a political statement – breaking down the Asian stereotype that all Asians are passive.

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